I have a love-hate relationship with California, but my feelings about Torrance have always been more straightforward - there are some people there who are incredibly important to me, but Torrance itself I have always hated.
There isn't much gained in hating a place though, especially one I will end up visiting again, so during this visit I decided to "get curious", as one person has advised me; to try to understand WHY Torrance is how it is, how its past influences it, what wild plants and free water are hiding in the cracks and forgotten places of the present, and what is possible in the future. During my latest trip I found several interesting things, which I'll be writing about in a mini-series of blog posts called "In The Darkest Places"
I've always struggled a bit with the concept of 'home'. When I was growing up, my house and immediate surroundings were 'home', but the city around me was not. Yet, to others close to me, Torrance was and is truly home, the only place they would ever want to live. It's taken me years to realize that they don't all secretly hate it and need to be 'rescued'. They instead are looking for something different than I am. Vermont is not for everyone either - it is very dark and can be brutally cold (or not cold enough to be fun) in winter, is muddy and messy in spring, the summers are buggy, humid, and sometimes very rainy, and 'stick season' in late fall is a trying time for everyone except deer hunters. The state is also predominantly rural, and those who want to live in a city (or suburban) environment will not like it here. But for me, it is everything I want, and right now the idea of moving back west seems absurd.
I've always envied the people who found 'home' where they were born; who started out in a place that was right for them and were able to cultivate a life-long relationship with one community and landscape. They strike me as incredibly lucky - like those who marry and happily spend their entire life with their first high school love. Still, there is also strength found in having to search many years for the right place (or person) before you find a good fit. It creates a different sort of connection to the land, but one I feel is no less strong.
The title "In The Darkest Places" comes from the Cloud Cult song "Everybody Here is a Cloud", which contains the lyrics "there's so much more to see in the darkest places". While Torrance is home to some, to me, and also to any plants trying to live on their own in an incredibly controlled and altered environment, it fits the bill: a dark place, but one with much more hiding in the cracks than I realized during the many years I lived there.
During my short week in Torrance, I took some time to explore, peek under things, follow water, and look closely at things I'd never seen before. This included poking around near a dirt-bottom ditch (the one pictured above) that passes under a power line along a road right-of-way in the northern part of the city.
I had noticed this little area on Google Maps, including a little line of green. There had to be SOMETHING living here that wasn't planted, watered, and manicured, right?
What I found was a place of incredible potential, but a dismal present state. The area appears to have been left undeveloped in case Casimir Avenue is ever extended. It makes sense to keep an opening so vehicles can pass through in an emergency, but it does not make sense to leave the area as a weedy field and spray the weeds with pesticides constantly, which is what is happening (and, to my memory, has always happened here). It would be very easy to expand the little swale a bit, plant a few native rain garden plants, and use it to slow down and absorb rainwater entering it from the streets to the south. A tree or two, a few benches... people would probably start picking up their dogs' feces, and a couple of mugwort plants would overpower that smell anyway. There would still be plenty of space for passage by emergency vehicles. Water would be appreciated by people and plants instead of rushing straight into a drain.
A very small 'side channel' enters the ditch from the nursery nearby, and also holds some small potential:
I found one weedy native plant - a willow-herb (Epilobium ciliatum) plant that seems to have been able to produce seed before being sprayed ( see below). Nearby another possible native plant, a